Once again, Sam Raimi directs a film with the word “Dead” in it. I love that his films are filled with corpses, violence, and blood but are generally refreshing and alive. This being one of his first forays into mainstream cinema, Raimi never forgets what brought him into the limelight into the first place: A playful, sporadically violent, and satirical approach to popular genres. The Quick and the Dead is lacking in plot but absolutely makes up for it in unique characters, tremendous action, and black humor. This is an absolute must-see.

The film is mostly an ensemble piece, but the main thread that calls itself a narrative revolves around Ellen (Sharon Stone), a chick with a serious vendetta against Herod (Gene Hackman at his best). His tyrannical rule over the town of Redemption keeps everyone in check and his annual shoot-out contest keeps the talented shootists six feet under. Herod, of course, wins each and every time and takes home the hefty prize money.

This year, contestants of the shooting contest include a gunslinger turned preacher (Russell Crowe), the cocky young son of Herod (Leonardo DiCaprio) who calls himself Kid, an infamous bounty hunter (Keith David), a slick and cunning man who claims to be the fastest draw in the west (Lance Henriksen) and of course, Ellen. There are many other interesting characters too numerous to list, but none of them are a bore. This is what I love most about this film. There really isn’t a plot, as the movie mostly just moves from one shootout to the next, but all of the confrontations are rendered intriguing because of the breathless pacing and the idiosyncratic characters.

Ellen only partakes in the shooting contest to get closer to Herod, who in her youth, orchestrated the murder of her father. Sharon Stone is convincing as the lead gunslinger and effectively channels the steely determination of any Sergio Leone protagonist, but because of the utter lack of substance in the narrative, we don’t truly sympathize with her. I’m being honest when I say I had no investment in her mission, but instead was completely immersed in the countless shoot-outs that take place throughout the film. I was surprised at how visually stunning and unique they were, each distinguishable from the next. It’s a testament to truly creative filmmaking.

I loved this film. I’ll admit that some won’t like it, as it is a clear example of style over substance, but Raimi’s style is so damn appealing that I allowed my usual gripes to fall by the wayside. Just allow yourself to be taken away by the brilliance of the cinematography, editing, and special effects and soon you’ll realize that in the end, the story never mattered. This is a six shooter that is fully loaded.

Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.

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